Stewards of data, past and present


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) program at NSIDC offers free and open-access data about Earth's fast-changing frozen regions. NOAA@NSIDC provides over 100 data sets. The diverse data include current and historical sea ice conditions, decades-long records of snow extent, historic glacier photographs, atlases assembled through international collaborations, even declassified Cold War submarine observations of the Arctic.

NOAA@NSIDC preserves data over the long term to support current and future research. Data products serve scientists engaged in research, decision makers planning activities affected by snow and ice, and members of the general public curious about the cryosphere. Data come from varied sources: satellites, in situ observations, weather services, historical records, and rescued data. The NOAA team at NSIDC advances understanding of the cryosphere by making data useful to a broad spectrum of users. The team does this by documenting data thoroughly, and often by reformatting data into user-friendly formats that support access and sharing, and creation of new data products. Some of the most-used NOAA@NSIDC data products include:

  • Sea Ice Index—an at-a-glance summary of trends and anomalies in sea ice across the Arctic and Antarctic
  • MASIE—where Arctic sea ice is right now
  • Glacier Photograph Collection—more than 25,000 images, the earliest from the mid-1800s
  • Historical data—sea ice, lake ice, iceberg, glacier, and weather observations, some records dating back to the nineteenth century, some even further into the past. (In the Global Lake and River Ice Phenology Database, the record for one lake begins in the year 874.)

Commitment to quality and accessibility

NOAA@NSIDC operates out of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at CU Boulder. NSIDC has conducted cryospheric research and provided data management services for Earth science data since 1976. In 1982, NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) established NSIDC, to serve as a data center, and as a referral center for polar research. NOAA@NSIDC currently serves the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) through a cooperative agreement. NOAA@NSIDC has operated as a program at NSIDC since 1996, when the NSIDC Liaison to NOAA position was established.

The NOAA@NSIDC program leverages NSIDC-wide expertise in scientific analysis, data curation, quality assurance, and technical communication when archiving, developing, and publishing data products. Staff time dedicated to NOAA products maintains documentation, and offers individualized user assistance whenever needed.

Downloading NOAA@NSIDC data is free to all users, and data products are accessible through the Download Data option on each data set landing page. Registration is optional, but provides access to updates and notifications regarding the data set. NOAA@NSIDC also requires that data users properly cite data sets when publishing their results.

Featured data products

Some data products are specially designed for ease of access and use. Several of the most broadly used data products are described below.

Sea Ice Index: A benchmark for ice conditions derived from satellite data

Pairing an interactive application with a downloadable data set, the Sea Ice Index is a record of changes in sea ice area and extent that dates back to 1979. This product provides consistently processed data across generations of satellite sensors, enabling you to compare observations from any part of the record to any other. The user-friendly interface lets you view and animate data without the need for special software or programming skills.

Sea Ice Index data are integral to NSIDC's Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis. This regularly updated analysis combines daily extent and concentration data with scientific insight. It is the go-to source of sea ice news for scientists, journalists, and anyone wanting to stay abreast of polar change.

The Sea Ice Index is also the basis for NSIDC's interactive Charctic tool. Use this tool to compare yearly trajectories of sea ice extent, and to view maps of sea ice concentration for any day since the start of the satellite record.

MASIE: Up-to-date sea ice extent

As Arctic sea ice retreats, human activity in the region increases. NOAA@NSIDC has worked with the US National Ice Center (USNIC) to build the Multisensor Analyzed Sea Ice Extent (MASIE) data product. MASIE uses daily operational charts of ice drawn by USNIC analysts to answer one of the most important questions for protecting people and property in the region: Where is Arctic sea ice now? By precisely locating the sea ice edge, using the most recent full day of data from USNIC, MASIE helps people studying the Arctic understand where ice is located. MASIE maps can be downloaded in several file formats at 4-kilometer and 1-kilometer resolutions.

Glacier Photos: Historical perspectives

The Glacier Photograph Collection is an online, searchable collection of photographs of glaciers. Photographs mostly show glaciers in the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Greenland, but the collection features a growing number of glaciers in Europe, South America, and Asia. Dates of the photos range from the mid-1800s to the present. The photos comprise a historical record that climate researchers and others can use to understand and depict how glaciers have changed over time.

Featured projects

NOAA@NSIDC has become a trusted data archive for international efforts to better understand Earth’s frozen regions. Some featured projects include the following:

International Ice Charting Working Group (IICWG)

The International Ice Charting Working Group (IICWG) was formed in October 1999, and is a working group of the world’s national ice services. IICWG endeavors to promote coordination of operational sea ice and iceberg information services, to serve their national and international maritime clients. In addition to participating in the IICWG, NOAA@NSIDC also hosts an IICWG site that provides information about IICWG’s charter and vision, meetings, and membership.

International Polar Year/Study of Environmental Arctic Change (IPY/SEARCH) data

The International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008 was the fourth multinational effort to better understand the polar regions, following campaigns in the 1880s, 1930s, and 1950s. By the time of IPY 2007-2008, rapid change in the Arctic was already apparent, encouraging many nations and multiple US agencies to participate in this intensive observation effort. NOAA contributed to the IPY effort through the Arctic Research Program’s Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH) project. SEARCH supplied researchers with long-term, Arctic-wide observations to detect climate change and put that change in context within space and time. With Russian partners, NOAA@NSIDC developed three data sets for the SEARCH program: 50 years of daily precipitation sums at coastal meteorological stations, monthly precipitation means from a larger set of stations, and monthly means of additional meteorological parameters.

Moored ULS Data

At the request of the World Climate Research Programme's Arctic Climate System Study/Climate and Cryosphere (ACSYS/CliC) Project Office, NOAA@NSIDC archives and distributes moored upward looking sonar (ULS) data. Just as submarines take measurements of sea ice through ULS, moored devices employed in the 1990s provided highly accurate measurements of sea ice draft—the thickness of sea ice that extends below the ocean surface. These ULS sea ice measurements were the result of an international effort to meet the science objective of the ACSYS/CliC program.

Archiving data with NOAA@NSIDC

The NOAA team at NSIDC receives limited financial support for archiving and publishing new data sets. We regret that we are unable to accept all submissions of new data. However, if you have data that would broadly impact scientific research and would like to discuss publishing your data with the NOAA team at NSIDC, or you are working on a research proposal and want to include data management, please contact the NOAA team lead Florence Fetterer to discuss your data.


NSIDC was established at the University of Colorado in 1982 by NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) to serve as a national information and referral center for polar research. While NSIDC is not part of NOAA, we are affiliated with the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) through a cooperative agreement and archive and distribute our NOAA data in partnership with NCEI. NOAA@NSIDC activities are made possible by support from NOAA